Less than a mile from our house sit a few hundred acres of empty private land. It's unfenced and unposted and apparently—except for its future value as desert home sites—unloved by the people who own it.
But others do. It attracts dog walkers by day, underage partiers by night, and according to the season, occasional cross-country skiers, mountain bikers and four-wheelers who find this a convenient playground, though far inferior to public lands farther from town.
In fact, we have better trails out our back door, but lately our dog has wanted to walk in this direction and, permissive father that I am, I let her pick the route.
Today, Roxy spotted a man in blaze orange walking his Shiba Inu across the road from the paved trail where we were walking, so I let her cross and we made our way along the maze of double track the four-wheelers have made through the snow. I know from biking here the ground shifts from a soft red sand to a sticky gumbo—each nearly impassible in their own way and therefore irresistible to a guy with a 4X4.
It's not my property and thus none of my business who else is using the land, but it does grate me when I come upon a hidden bowl where four-wheelers have been spinning circles and unsuccessfully trying to climb one of the hills. Elsewhere their driving has simply packed the snow, but here they've churned up the ground enough that the crust had melted and my boot slipped into a generous patch of the gumbo. (Think rubberized wet concrete that will adhere the rest of the walk, even as I scuff through snowbanks and stomp on rocks.)
When someone's sport tears up the earth this way, it doesn't seem like a game to me. I entertained a scenario in which I'd come upon some of them, pretend to be the property owner and run them off.
As Roxy and I circled back toward home, I spied one of those trucks coming up the road toward us. And then I saw the two big Labradors running along behind.
I confess uncharitable thoughts in that moment. A trespassing four-wheeler too lazy-ass to walk his dogs. We stepped off road which cut through a hillock and waited for him to pass. Meanwhile, the yellow Lab of the pair passed the truck and ran toward us.
"Tahoe... Tahoe, get back here," the driver yelled.
Though Tahoe was twice Roxy's size he didn't look like trouble, and Roxy is usually fine with other dogs, but she was leashed and you always have to watch how dogs react in that situation. They sniffed each other and then Tahoe headed back to the truck, which had stopped partway up the incline. The driver was out and loading the other dog into the covered back.
Roxy and I moved closer and to the other side of the road so he could see us better when he resumed.
That's when I saw the wheelchair symbol on his license plate.
He worked his way slowly back to the cab, leaning on the side of the truck for support and shuffling his feet a few inches at a time. When he reached the door, he had to use it to lift himself up to the seat, but because of the truck's angle, the door kept trying to swing closed on his fingers.
I said, "Your dog was fine," and he just nodded. He had a long greying ponytail (Western Colorado must be the men's ponytail capital of the world) and looked to me like a motorcyclist who'd come back from a bad accident, but not all the way. He had one leg up on the floor and rocked a bit as he lifted his left leg with his hands against the closing door and the skew of gravity.
Not the sort of man you ask if he wants help.
I waved as he drove past. He kept both hands on the wheel and drove out of there, and I realized I felt like the guilty one for cutting his outing short.